PROGRAM >> Requirements

Note that the following timeline applies to the direct-entry PhD degree program. Students in the PhD four-year track should follow starting from Year 2 exclusive of course requirements. (There is no minimum course requirement in the four-year program except for courses deemed necessary by the student’s PhD supervisory committee.)

Year 1

Two Required Research Courses

AST1501Y– Introduction to Research (1.0 FCE) – spans the fall and winter sessions and
AST1500Y– Directed Research (1.0 FCE) – summer session (Note that summer session courses will be available for enrollment in April.)

Each research project is in a separate area and under the supervision of a different faculty member. To help identify potential supervisors for the directed research courses, the first phase of AST1501Y is a series of informal research talks with various faculty members.

Students will identify and contact potential research project advisers. Any research faculty member of the Department, Dunlap, or CITA is eligible to serve as an adviser. Postdoctoral fellows may serve as a co-adviser.

Projects should be feasible and interesting, clearly defined, and ultimately publishable. Each research course culminates with a final report (ApJ Letter length or actual draft of paper for submission) and project presentation.

Graduate Course Electives

It is recommended that two of the required four graduate electives are completed in the first year.

Year 2

Graduate Course Electives

It is recommended that two of the required four graduate electives are completed in the second year.

PhD Supervisor Arrangement (Deadline: September 3rd)

This arrangement is especially important as it not only impacts progress/status in the program but is also tied to funding starting in the second year which is in part provided by a research assistantship. (This is just a formal classification for stipend funds paid by a supervisor toward advancement of research goals for the doctoral degree. This may include research collaboration with the supervisor or others, developing techniques and methodologies, or gaining knowledge of scientific or scholarly ideas or materials.)

When the PhD supervisor arrangement is finalized, please email grad.sec@astro.utoronto.ca with a copy to grad.coord@astro.utoronto.ca and supervisor.

Formation of PhD Supervisory Committee + Thesis Topic (Deadline: December 15th)

Once the supervisor arrangement is established, the student and supervisor should start to confer on the composition of the PhD Supervisory Committee which is comprised of the supervisor and two other faculty members. The supervisor should approach the agreed upon committee members to serve in this capacity. As well,  a thesis topic should be in place by this time. Please email grad.sec@astro.utoronto.ca the composition of the supervisory committee with a copy to grad.coord@astro.utoronto.ca and supervisor.

PhD Supervisory Committee Meeting (Deadline: March 31st)

In this first meeting, a short thesis topic proposal (3-4 pages) is presented. The committee will provide an assessment and advice and may request a follow-up meeting to address central points raised at this time.

As well, the committee will discuss the composition of the Thesis Qualifying Exam quorum. The quorum is comprised of the supervisory committee and two additional faculty members not closely associated with the thesis project.

PhD Qualifying Exams

General Knowledge Exam (May)

The general knowledge exam is divided into 5 broad subject areas: Cosmology, Extragalactic astronomy, Galactic astronomy, Stars + Planets, and Mathematics + General Physics.

Week of May 14th: General qualifier part 1 (Cosmology & Extragalactic)
Week of May 28th: General qualifier part 2 (Galactic, Stars, & Physics)

3 lead-off questions will be taken from a pre-supplied test bank in each subject area. Each question leads to 7 minutes of Q&A: 2 minutes of answering the lead-in question followed by 5 minutes of follow-up questioning. Rigid timekeeping is enforced.

The test bank questions can evolve from year to year but no changes will be made after October 31st of the exam year

Thesis Qualifying Exam (June + July)

The candidate is required to prepare a written PhD thesis proposal (often on a theme growing out of one of the first-year research courses, but not necessarily) and defend it in an oral examination conducted by a panel of faculty members.

The exam begins with a 20-25 minute presentation outlining the proposed thesis, including scientific motivation, techniques, feasibility, and a proposed schedule. The presentation is followed by at least one and typically two rounds of questioning by the examination committee. Each questioner will typically ask questions for approximately 10 minutes in each round. Occasional follow-up questions that occur out of sequence from other examiners are permitted. The exam is generally expected to be complete at the end of 2 hours; 3 hours is the absolute maximum time limit.

Note that the exam date should be arranged by the and supervisor in coordination with the exam committee after the general knowledge part is complete. The deadline for completion of the thesis qualifying exam is July 31st.

AST4000Y Research Course Series

Students commence the AST4000Y Research course series in the summer session of Year 2 with enrollment in AST4002Y. (Note that summer session course enrollment will open in April.) AST4002Y corresponds to the completion of PhD qualifying examinations: general knowledge and thesis proposal. This carries course weight (1.0 FCE) and is graded. The default grade for successful completion of the qualifying exams is an A.

Years 3→5

Supervisory Committee Meetings

The department requires students in their third year and above to hold PhD supervisory committee meetings twice a year: in October and April of each academic year which is tied to enrollment in the AST4000Y Research course series. The AST4000Y sequence continues with enrollment each fall session starting with AST4003Y and is incremented by one digit each subsequent year through Year 5 – e.g. AST4004Y, 4005Y. The course spans the fall and winter sessions and is associated with thesis research progress. It carries course weight (1.0 FCE) and is graded  based on the average of the two PhD supervisory committee meetings. The default grades for committee meetings are A (satisfactory progress), A- (mainly satisfactory progress with a few stumbling blocks) and B (unsatisfactory progress. If a student receives two B’s in a row, the student will be required to withdraw from the program. Please refer to the Supervisory Committee page for full details.

Achieving PhD Candidacy

Students are expected to have completed all requirements for the PhD degree exclusive of thesis research by the beginning of the third year of registration. The notation “Candidacy Achieved” will appear on the transcript of the student who has completed these program requirements.


General Program Requirements

Note that these are applicable for all years.

Colloquia and Seminar Series

Students are expected to attend seminars and the Wednesday weekly colloquia series arranged by the Department and Dunlap (no academic credit or marks are given).

Good Academic Standing

In  accord with the School of Graduate Studies policy, you are required to remain in “good standing” in your graduate program and to make “satisfactory progress” toward the completion of your degree requirements.

Satisfactory progress refers to the timeliness of progression through degree requirements such as course work, examinations, and research.

Eligibility for funding and registration in the program may be affected if you do not remain in good standing or if you do not make satisfactory progress, so it is important to meet with your supervisor regularly.


Students are normally expected to be registered on campus full-time for the duration of their program. In order to activate registration status for the year, either the tuition and fees need to be deferred or a minimum payment made. (Tuition and fees for the academic year are posted to Student Accounts by mid-July.)

Students within the funded cohort are automatically eligible to defer tuition and fees through ACORN. The deferral process allows the postponement of payment until April 30, 2017 (without penalty). Students outside the funded cohort should consult with the graduate administrator to determine deferral eligibility. For full details, please refer to Tuition and Fees.

Note that enrollment in courses does not activate your full-time registration status.